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Sunday, June 24, 2007

English yachting weather

It's June, it's summer, it's raining. Gesa's mum (mama) is visiting, and she has never seen the boat, so we took her over to Woolvestone. Hoping to go for a sail, but the lack of wind and presence of large amounts of rain soon changed our plans.

Here we are waiting for the water taxi. For me, being on the boat is a joy, a release from daily pressures, a different world. That's why I am smiling as the rain pours off my jacket. Mama and the children appear to have a different idea about this situation.

In the end, we had a pleasent afternoon hiding out in the saloon, with the kids playing games, Gesa and Mama taking naps, and I even got a few jobs done too. But still, a little sunshine, please?
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Monday, June 18, 2007

Summer party

Every year, in the middle of June, we have our summer party and invite our friends around to enjoy a bar-b-que in the summer sunshine. Sometimes the sun shines, and sometimes, well, this is England.

This year, it was also something of a farewell party, as many people may not see us again for some time, and because of that, we had many, many visitors and some coming from far and wide to be with us, which was wonderful.

The rain held off for most of the day, and the garden was filled with children making the most of our new hammock and all the other toys in the garden. The queue at the barbie was lengthy as everyone vied for the first sausages, and the salads that we had so carefully spent all morning making were gone in the blink of an eye - so at least they must have tasted OK.

One of our guests brought some party-poppers and sparklers, so we sat the kids down in a big circle around the campfire and carefully let off the party poppers before giving them all a little wave of the sparklers. Amazingly, no injuries resulted!
As the parents took their children home, others stayed and chatted on into the night, as we made a good sized dent in the collection of malt whisky and even did our best to get rid of some of those weird spirits that lurk in the back of the drinks cupboard. Ukranian cherry vodka, anyone?

Another great gathering at this house, and one of our last, which is somewhat sad but we look forward to many similar occasions in our new homes in the years to come. Meanwhile, 61 Akeman Street passes onto new owners who will hopefully have their own share of wonderful times in this house.
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Fairground attraction

Down to the children's fair on Jesus Green at the weekend, despite a wet and rainy day. The kids had a good time riding the rides - the Helter Skelter (when I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide and....)

The roundabout, with Max's friend Maurits in the driving seat.
Issie spining around in a slightly more exciting roundabout

And everyone walking home in the wet and splashing in the puddles, thank heaven for crocs and wellies. Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 11, 2007

A map to guide the way

Daisy, who lives next door, has heard about our trip and drew us a map. She's used tea to make it old, and shown us our route to Canada! Kids can be so cool.


In a shop today, Max asked 'what does that sign mean?'

'No dogs allowed, except guide dogs'

'Yes mummy, no guy dogs, only girls'

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Crew Weekend 2 - Eventful...

4 crew. 115 miles. 1 fish. 1 visit to A&E. 23 hours at sea.

The second crew weekend was for those who plan to sail from the Canaries to Antigua in November. My dad, Jeremy and Ed came along, Ian lives in Canada so is excused. Friday dawned wet and thundery, with lightening all around and torrential rain. we stayed inside and ate a leisurely breakfast. Jeremy arrived about 10am and brought the better weather with him, and by the time we departed the rain had stopped, the breeze came up and by the middle of the day we had glorious sunshine.

Sailing comfortably when the wind was there, and motoring when it wasn't, we picked our way across the many channels and sandbanks of the Thames estuary, heading for the Swale, on the North Kent coast, where the remote Isle of Harty promised a well regarded inn and a very quiet anchorage.

During one of the slower sailing stretches, we rigged the rod and line with a spinner on the end. Dad had given us the rod, which he brought in France, and reminded us that he had trailed that line for many miles across the channel and beyond, without a bite. Ten minutes later, the reel was whizzing as the line ran out astern, clearly with an unwilling creature on the end. A battle worthy of Hemmingway ensued. Well, ok, We took a while to work out how the reel worked and drag in the fish, but it was more than a mackerel. We learnt that our little net isn't up to the job, but still managed to land a decent sized sea bass. Swiftly dispatched, cleaned and laid in the galley to await the bar-b-que, which we lit as we approached the anchorage and enjoyed a very tasty meal - that fish was more than enough for the four of us.

The anchorage was calm and peaceful, and the pub beckoned, so we rigged the dinghy and pootled ashore for a pint. Sure enough, the surroundings were very amiable, and the beer was good, as we sat in the garden chatting and enjoying the view. As the little midges got going, we moved inside for a last pint and discovered that they were still serving desert. Treacle suet pudding with custard. Mmmm. As the bell rang for last orders, we left and made our way towards the shore. Going down a grassy bank, Dad slipped on the damp grass and fell awkwardly. What seemed like a simple slip soon turned out to be something more painful and we decided to call for help. The 999 operator was a little uncertain of our location, somewhere in the very furthest reaches of Kent, and some 30 minutes the 'response car' arrived, a very helpful chap in a big volvo managed to find us and agree that Dad should go to hospital. Trouble was that it would be an hour before an ambulance could get to us, but we all decided that we could make space in the car to get him in, without bending his leg, and off he went to Chatham.

The remaining crew got the dinghy back down to the water - with the tide gone out and a heavy dinghy, it's no easy task, and then back on board. We knew that Dad would be lucky to be seen before the early hours of the morning, but he might then be chucked straight out again if he wasn't bad enough for a hospital bed, so we'd have to be there to pick him up. It's a five hour trip by water, so we'd have to get up very early to do that, or do some now, and finish in the morning. Given that we were all wide awake by then, we upped anchor at 01:30 and motored out into the estuary again. On a rising tide, we cut all the corners over the sandbanks, thankful for a calm night and the precision of the satnav, and rested to the anchor again in Stangate Creek at 04:30. A reasonable morning's sleep saw us off to Gillingham marina in the morning, by which time we'd heard from Dad and he had been admitted, and was seeing the specialist before they'd let him out. We picked up a bouy in the river and waited.

Waiting in those circumstances is a long and tedious business. But at least we were in the sunshine on the river, whilst Dad waited in the less attractive surroundings of Chatham Maritime Hospital. the crew passed the time chatting and preparing lunch, and I polished the hull and got some varnishing done. By 3pm, Dad was back, with a diagnosis. He has torn the muscle and ligaments in his thigh, where they attach to the bone, and needs an operation, then six weeks in plaster. The hospital were ready to operate the next day, but Dad decided not to get stuck in a hospital 200 miles from home withno things and a trip across London afterwards, so they strapped his leg to a splint and he rejoined us for the trip back, hopefully to get the operation in Shrewsbury pretty soon.

We dropped our lines and headed back out into the Thames, with the patient happily resting in the cockpit with a much needed beer. we clearly weren't going to be home before 1am, but with a good forecast it would be an easy trip and sensible to get back and work out how to get Dad back to Shropshire. After a hearty dinner - all food tastes better at sea - Dad retired to a bunk and we sailed and motored back. No fish this time, but amazing phosphorescence in the waters off the Essex coast, the bow wave glowed a vivid green as we disturbed the billions of microbes and persuaded them to light up in panic. Motoring up the river on a windless night, we picked up our mooring, had a glass of malt and retired for a long sleep. It had been 24 hours since Dad slipped, and we had covered a lot of ground.

In the morning, we tidied the boat, came ashore, said farewell to Jeremy, adjusted the insurance on Dad's car to let Ed and I drive, and I drove us back to Cambridge. Ed drove Dad on to Coventry, where Mum came out and picked him up. We know have to deal with the ramifications, because with only 8 weeks to go till we depart for the Canaries, it seems unlikely that Dad can have the operation, get out of plaster and be recovered well enough to get across the Bay of Biscay with us. Hopefully he should be fine for the second trip but right now we'll check out our options and see how things go.

Get well soon Dad. We'd like to see you back on board just as soon as you're ready.
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Monday, June 04, 2007

Full house

This weekend we entertained our friends Corrine, Edo and their three children for a beach trip to the Walton Backwaters. Despite 9 people being a bit of a squeeze on board TD, everyone managed remarkably well and we had a lot of fun.

Friday was just us, Gesa fed the kids before we left and we put them to bed before settling down to our own dinner. Issie, however, had other ideas and joined us on deck to enjoy the evening.

Next morning, the rest of the crew arrived at half nine and we motored into the marina to pick them up, fill up with water and send me up the mast with the rivet gun to fix a broken fitting. This boat has huge water tanks - it took nearly half an hour to fill up and we weren't that low!

We set off in lovely sunshine to motor into a gentle breeze (it's always blowing form ahead, isn't it) with the hope of doing some sailing out in the estuary. However, out there the fog came down and we nervously felt our way past the big ship channel and into the Backwaters, hooting our foghorn and listening to the boom of the tug's foghorn sounding all too close. At times like this, it's great to have radar and I could see that tug safely over to the West.

Anchored in the creek, we had a lovely lunch while the fog cleared and everyone tootled off to the beach leaving me to do some jobs on board. After a good few hours of happy playtime, they called me out to get them, but had walked up the beach to a particularly muddy spot, where people began to sink up to their thighs. As Corrine observed, you'd pay the spa a fortune to get this treatment. Max was less amused, although only his ankles got covered.

As the youngest went to bed, I took the other kids off in the dinghy to look for the seals in the next creek, and sure enough we found them, enjoying the sunset on the mudflats. Trying not to disturb them too much we sat and watched as some swam around us. The kids loved it. (see some video here) They also really enjoyed the ride home, with flat water and the dinghy planing at 15 knots, Issie and Tessel giggled with the wind in their faces and the dinghy rocking over the ripples.

Next day dawned foggy again, and the kids were often more interested in their friend's GameBoy than the surroundings, but we got them off to the beach again and built a great sandcastle. I think I can start a photo collection - 'sandcastles of the world' as we tour various beaches on this trip.

After lunch, we upped anchor and headed home, finally getting to sail in a lovely south-east breeze, giving the kids a chance to steer and everyone to enjoy the trip. The sun even came out near the end and we sat at the marina bar enjoying a pint before heading home.

Lovely weekend. Here's to many more.
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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Crew weekend 1 - Come rain or shine

With a little over two months to go until we depart for the Canaries, the crew gathered for a weekend get together in order to spend some time on their trusty vessel, with their less trusty but perfectly crusty skipper. Guy and Melissa, however, delayed their arrival by a day due to other commitments - hopefully Ty Dewi will not remember that when delivering them to their next port!

So it was on a beautifully sunny and warm Friday morning that Nick, Owen and Amanda motored down the river in very little wind. With a course charted for Burnham, some eight hours away, we set the autopilot and enjoyed being afloat and together as a crew again over twelve years since we chartered a little Sadler 24 in the West Country.

Turning west around the end of the Gunfleet Sands, a nice breeze sprung up and we hoisted full sail and gently rode the zephyrs most of the way up the River Crouch before we picked up a mooring off Burnham on Crouch. There's some video here

Guy's train was due in at half eight, and Melissa an hour later, so we motored in to pick up Mr Hargreaves, then retired to a waterfront pub to await the arrival of our fifth crew member. Right on time, she arrived to join us in our next pint, and it was nearly 11pm before we were back on board eating dinner. We retired well content and ready to enjoy the next day's sailing.

With the forecast worsening at every broadcast, it was clear that Sunday was going to be a less than pleasant day, so we took the chance to sail up to Brightlingsea on Saturday. Short tacking along the narrow river channels made the crew work hard for their lunch, but once through the Wallet Spitway (a narrow gap between the sandbanks), we bore away and make good speed to the River Colne.

Dropping the anchor off Mersea island we headed into town and enjoyed a few beers and chat in the Yachtsman's Arms. To be recommended. The night was flat calm and we slept extremely well, but the forecast hurried us along and we had agreed to be awake and away at 8am.

There was plenty of wind, a good force 5, but as it always seems, it was right on the nose so we motored into a lumpy sea, never a satisfying experience and the crew's stomachs agreed. After what seemed an age, we turned the corner at Walton and headed north - now we could sail so we hoisted canvas and enjoyed 10 minutes romping along at full pace before the wind died and the heavens opened. The law of Sod and all that. Whilst I was happy in the pilothouse, keeping fairly warm and dry, those who hadn't got their sea-legs preferred to stay on deck, so it was a crew of fairly well drowned water rats that finally picked up the mooring at Woolverstone.

A couple of hours later, a tidy Ty Dewi and a tired crew parted company, and I think we're all ready to meet again in a couple of months to head South. Adieu.